On buying artwork …..
The whole business of buying a picture is distinctly different to that of choosing furniture, curtains or any other aspect of decorating your home (or ‘interior design’ if that is where you are!)
Because there is an ever-present underlying belief that somehow that picture on the wall will, one day, be worth a fortune.
In the back of our minds is the tale of the cafe owner in the south of France who accepted pictures in payment for the tab of his regular client, Vincent van Gogh.
I suspect that there are probably quite a number of us artists who work at producing art with the same faint hope niggling away - one day this painting will be recognised for its true worth.
Even though we all know, when we are cold and business-like, that these hopes and beliefs are very improbable, millions of people still buy lottery tickets when they know the chances of winning are 14 million to one against.
There is a pleasure about holding that ticket until the draw is finished, hoping that maybe this will be my week, and that same pleasure can add to our enjoyment of an original painting that we have chosen.
This is clearly not true of the big department stores’ sections labelled “Art” where there are factory-produced prints of nice pictures being sold in between the curtains and the wallpaper. This stuff will have absolutely no value as soon as you take it out of the shop - but, to be fair, I grew up with Monet’s poppy fields on the wall - a valueless print, but still a good representation of a Monet.
We ‘spend’ money on carpets, furniture and curtains, but we ‘invest’ in art, and we probably spend a lot more on those other aspects than we invest in the art. But we buy a new car much more often than we change the artwork on the walls (some of us buy a new HOUSE more often than we change the artwork), so choosing wisely is important.
In one of my exhibitions, a lady came in and said she was looking to buy a large oil painting … I tried to remain calm and professional and suggested she take a look around. She did that, then returned to gaze at one, and called me over. We chatted about it, me trying hard not to be the second-hand car salesman, but she was a definite prospect, until….. “No, it won’t go with my carpet.”
It has taken me some time to come round to the realisation that she was right and that leads to Rule 1 in this Guide - the artwork on your walls has to fit with the look you are creating in the room.
Rule 2 is that you must enjoy looking at the piece. If it is going to be with you for years and years, you must gain pleasure from gazing at it.
From my point of view, of someone creating and selling art, this is the cold business rationale for why some art sells while some doesn’t.
But - as I say above, the art market is not cold and rational - there is the ‘lottery ticket’ idea which flows from fashion - some artists are ‘hot’.
There are thousands of people producing original art creating a market which offers original work of good quality covering every imaginable subject. The technical quality of most of that is excellent, and yet - some sells for £100, some for £10,000.
There is an enormous iceberg-shaped distribution graph, with thousands of us striving away at the bottom, selling work for whatever someone is willing to pay for it. At the other end, there are those whose every scribble is snapped up and auctioned for huge sums.
The middle zone of this distribution is busy and competitive, Curators and Gallerists use their skill to judge what will be hot and gamble their careers on choosing which artists, or which styles will sell next year.
There was a time in the past when I had to sit through many many meetings with investment analysts looking after vast sums of a pension scheme. Chatting to one of those, I sought advice on stock-picking for the ordinary citizen. His advice was simple, and I believe it relates just as much to choosing art. He said - “Use your own judgement. If you can see that a high street retailer is struggling while another is always busy and popular - you can see which to invest in.”
- And so - Rule 3 - Use you own judgement. Buy art that you like, that will give you pleasure.
Some people enjoy landscapes
Some people enjoy eating these!
The idea was edgy 50 years ago, today it is only mildly eccentric
Diversity is marvellous. Who would want us all and everything we see, to be the same?
But - it is often difficult to understand WHY - why do some people enjoy eating deep fried Mars Bars? Some people enjoy gazing at very realistic pictures, while others prefer their stimulation to come from concepts.
Personally, I cannot imagine eating a Mars Bar that has been coated in batter then sunk in a deep fat frier. I also find some art that was cutting edge when it first appeared to be little more than mildly eccentric today.
I have to accept that there are trends, though - look at the number of young men who are now proud of their beards, or young couples who insist on dressing their young babies in absurdly expensive clothes because they carry designer logos - both are concepts that I find completely bewildering.
While diversity is great, there must be an instinct amongst us to feel that we belong with the tribe, we seek to conform to norms and standards shared by people we respect, or whose respect we crave. So the decisions about how we choose what to hang on our walls, and hence what art work, if any, we choose to purchase, will be complex.
I have never understood why anyone would buy a book purely because it is (allegedly) written by someone who was once a famous catwalk model, and the same doubt applies to artwork created by ageing rockstars or retired actors. The rationale has to be that those works will give the buyer something to talk about with those friends and might somehow garner a notch more esteem in the tribe.
Take that line of thought forward and it would suggest that my paintings are more likely to become more sought after if there was some story associated with my name that would give future owners of those paintings something to talk about - Cut off my ear? Deep-fry the paintings? Hang them in the Oval Office? Make them so ridiculous they will gain coverage?
Or maybe there are people out there amongst the billions of us sharing this earth who will want to look at a picture because you like it rather than because of something odd about the artist?
A very long time ago in ancient Greece, the philosopher Plato explained that whereas a carpenter making a stool has direct, first-hand experience of the stool, someone looking at a painting of it is further removed from reality.
Which seems pretty obvious, really, except ….. in today’s art world, the reactions of the viewers of the piece of work, especially the installations, are integral to the whole experience of it, and that experience itself is the ‘reality’ the artist seeks to stimulate.
But this cannot be true of every image - all those millions taken every day on the camera-phones are valueless except to their owner. Your reaction to most of the pictures on my phone is unlikely to qualify as a lifetime experience, whereas my reaction to Wei-Wei’s infinity pool, along with those of the other people present at the same time, certainly contributed to each other’s memories of it.
This means that there must be dividing lines somewhere, or categories, to recognise that random snaps on our phones are different from huge pieces of installation art, and so somewhere on that spectrum there is point to one side of which the object is not memorable and has no intrinsic value to anyone other than its owner, and on the other, the object is inherently interesting, even to people who have no affinity with the subject matter.
Just as we can be uplifted by listening to a great piece of music entirely on our own, unaffected by anyone else, so we can with a piece of art, so the impact of the reality of the experience of that piece does not depend on being with others, the artwork, or music itself is capable to triggering a reaction, and my argument is that this can be as direct as Plato’s carpenter with his stool, because of the quality of the artwork.
As someone who derives great pleasure from the outdoors and who tries to create paintings which evoke for the viewer some of the sensations that I have experienced from being there, my challenge is to produce work that IS inherently interesting to neutral viewers - ie paintings which may be representations of a place but somehow present more than a mere postcard of that place.
I have enormous respect for fellow painters who work out in precise detail in advance how their painting is going to look. And their portrayal of the real scene is generally a lot more accurate in terms of photographic quality, than my sweeping work. The values of the two different styles are distinctly different. Some artists take it as a great compliment if a viewer comments ‘Its just like a photograph…’ I would be very hurt by such a comment as my objective is more evocative than representational.
That quest continues, but people’s reaction’s to paintings are direct reactions to the reality of those paintings rather than a third-hand reaction to the object portrayed.